Institute of Astronomy

Part II Topics in Astrophysics

Michaelmas Term, 24 Lectures – Prof. R G McMahon

The focus will be on topics in contemporary astronomy and astrophysics with many topics highlighted in papers that have been published in Nature or Science in the last decade.  The numbers in brackets give the approximate number of lectures per topic.

1. Introduction:  Baryonic content of the Universe; Solar System, Sun as a typical star, Stars, Galaxies; Mass, lengths and time scales, Fluxes, magnitudes and luminosities; Source counts; Distance determination and the distance ladder; Radiation mechanisms, continuum radiation, blackbodies, power-laws;  Spectra, line radiation, emission and absorption lines. [4]

2. Observational techniques and sources of astronomical information: Electro-magnetic radiation, gamma-rays, X-rays, UV, visible, IR, mm, radio, transparency of the atmosphere, neutrinos, gravitational radiation, cosmic rays, existing and future major ground-based and space-ground-based observing facilities, angular resolution, S/N calculations. [3]

3. Compact Objects; White dwarfs, neutron stars and stellar mass black holes:  Binary star observations, visual binaries, spectroscopic binaries, eclipsing binaries, masses and radii; Discovery, origin and structure of white dwarfs;  Discovery of pulsars, origin of neutron stars, structure, observed properties, evolution, beaming, magnetic fields, magnetic dipoles, pulse timing, the utility of pulsars, gravitational waves, origin and evidence for stellar mass black holes. [4]

5. Supernovae, Gamma Ray Bursts, Ultra-Luminous X-ray sources: Classification and taxonomy, energetics, rates, light curves, spectra, pre-cursors, remnants, radio-active decay; Gamma Ray Bursts (GRBs), discovery, searches, observations, long and short duration GRBs, models. [3]

6. Active Galactic Nuclei, Quasars and Supermassive Black Holes: Discovery, observations, classification, energetics, standard model, Eddington limit, Salpeter timescale, host galaxies, reverberation mapping, jets, superluminal motion, unified models, quasar population evolution, evidence for a supermassive black hole at the centre of the Milky Way and other massive galaxies, quasars as a probe of the intergalactic medium, formation and evolution of supermassive black holes; Hawking radiation. [3]

7. Clusters of Galaxies Structure and content, galaxies within them, hot X-ray gas, magnetic fields, dark matter, virial mass, tidal stripping, S-Z effect, cooling flows. [2]

8. Gravitational Lensing: Basic physics, Einstein rings, critical surface mass density, strong lensing by galaxy clusters, caustics and critical lines, cluster masses, weak lensing, time delays and the Hubble constant, micro-lensing, constraints on halo objects. [2]

9. Exoplanets: Discovery methods, statistics of known exoplanets, pulsar planets, hot Jupiters, super Earths, planet formation, dust, proto-planetary discs, Hill radius, habitable zones, biomarkers and life. [3]

Carroll, B.W. & Ostlie, D.A. An Introduction to Modern Astrophysics (Addison-Wesley) 1996.


Lecture Notes and examples sheets:  via  CamTools

Page last updated: 22 November 2013 at 09:46